Breaking party ranks, Simi Valley Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly is vowing to vote for a Democratic version of the balanced-budget amendment that insulates Social Security from fiscal harm.
Gallegly argued that he wants to protect the massive social program and other trust funds from possible cuts as Congress struggles to rid the federal government of red ink.
“For years, I’ve said in public--or voted--that on the issue of balancing the budget, not just Social Security but all trust fund money should be ‘off budget.’ I have a very difficult time using money already obligated to offset debits. It’s a very poor way of balancing your budget.”
But most Republicans view the Democratic approach as nothing more than a cynical political ploy to kill the balanced-budget amendment--one of the main tenets of the GOP’s legislative agenda.
By giving House members a credible option to support, crucial votes for the original amendment will be drawn away, bringing about its defeat--precisely what most Democrats want.
The conservative Gallegly does not stray very often from party principle. But he insisted that his point of view borrows nothing from the Democrats.
“If we allow this [substitute] amendment to be killed, then, in effect, you will find many Democrats saying that that’s the reason they’re not going to vote for the balanced-budget amendment--and that’s absolute B.S.
“There’s a big difference between the Democrats and my position. It’s obvious what my friends on the other side of the aisle are doing, and I don’t particularly respect what they are doing,” Gallegly said.
“I am not going to support the use of trust fund money to balance the budget--plain and simple. The difference is one of motive. It’s very clear that the Democratic motive is not to have less money to spend. The motive is to give them cover for why they would vote against the balanced-budget amendment.”
Gallegly said that if the substitute amendment he prefers goes down to defeat, he will vote for the original GOP plan and try to protect the trust funds through another legislative maneuver.
“I’m going to support [balancing the budget] either way, and I would submit that the Democrats would oppose it either way,” he said.
Although Republicans promise to bring their amendment up for a vote, the measure is running into formidable opposition in both houses of Congress.
Debate began on the Senate floor last week, but no vote is scheduled.
In the House, the Judiciary Committee, on which Gallegly sits, was scheduled to vote on the measure Tuesday. But that vote has been postponed indefinitely.
“It may be on hold for 35 or 40 days,” Gallegly said. “But my own knowledge of the institution and belief in the political reality say that it will come up for a vote.
“You may not like what we [Republicans] are doing, you may not like what we stand for, but the one thing you can count on is if we say we’re going to bring something to the floor, we do it.”
Because the issue divides so neatly along party lines, Gallegly has been pressed by his party leadership to drop his support of the Democratic alternative.
“I have been called by [House Majority Leader] Dick Armey. When I made my argument about trust funds in the budget, his exact response was, ‘I hear you,’ ” Gallegly said. “So, I’ve had pressure, but do I feel pressure, no.”
The idea of protecting Social Security from budget cuts poses interesting trade-offs that help explain the quizzical nature of the balanced-budget debate.
Social Security is “off budget” now, but its annual surpluses are counted in President Clinton’s plan to balance the budget in 2002. Most GOP budgets do the same thing.
The trouble starts in 2015, when Social Security starts running deficits because of big payouts to retiring baby boomers.
But to exclude Social Security receipts and outlays from deficit calculations, as the Democratic alternative would require, means that perhaps as much as an additional $430 billion will have to be chopped from the federal budget from 1998 to 2002.
“If that means we have fewer tanks or fewer benefits for immigrants, that’s what we will have to do,” Gallegly said.